Everything’s Bloody Expensive Today and That’s Affecting Our Romantic Relationships Too

Now, more than ever, the price of love may be a heavy one to pay – quite literally.

In an ideal world, love, like the best things in life, is supposed to be free. There should be a level of comfort between lovers that makes even the worst of days bearable. But what happens when the shadow of money looms large over even the most well-intentioned romantic relationships? 

Last month, it was reported that the annual inflation, or the rate of increase in prices over a period in time, in the Eurozone’s 19 member states rose to 8.9 percent in July – an increase from 8.6 percent in June – driven by volatile energy prices in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war. On August 12 of this year, the United States also passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a more than $430 billion reform package for an economy still reeling from the pandemic. A few weeks ago, Shaktikanta Das, the governor of India’s central bank, told reporters that Indian inflation is “unacceptably and uncomfortably” high. 

According to a recent survey conducted by Dating.com, 52 percent of respondents reported holding back from even dating in the first place, so that they could save the money spent on clothing, gas, dinner and drinks and public transportation. The survey also found that 58 percent of respondents would much rather get to know their date first before doing any monetary investment. 

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Another survey earlier this year by a dating app also found that almost half of its users are more concerned with the costs of dates now versus a year ago, and that people prefer sober dates because they’re more affordable.

To what extent does inflation affect the tangible ways in which we choose to express our love, especially in a country like India where expressing love openly is a privilege, even in urban spaces?

“It depends on where you are in the class-caste pyramid,” Harvard-educated economist Shrayana Bhattacharya told VICE. “If you have limited access to the luxury of family wealth and savings, and the country witnesses a massive increase in living costs, single women with lower paying jobs relative to [single] men, may feel greater incentives to marry a man with a home and steady income.”

She added that migrant single women may not date much, if at all, as the cost of going out to mingle may be too high. 

“Dating is a luxury, if you're struggling to pay your bills and sending some money [back home] to your parents. Increased fuel or transport costs may push women into more seclusion in families that are keen to save and reluctant to allow women to be out.”

Putlibai Dora, a 29-year-old widow and migrant from the Bihar state in India, who works as a domestic worker in the upscale housing societies of central Delhi, told VICE that dating and falling in love requires an inexhaustible amount of time that she simply doesn’t have. 

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“I had zero work for four months when the pandemic started,” she said. “This was surprising because I was working in the homes of politicians and bureaucrats with all the money in the world. In such a risky situation, how can I even afford to fall in love? When my husband was alive, we would budget even our visits to roadside shacks for potato fritters.” 

Dora said that inflation has not only made her lose trust in the power of a welfare state to enable people like her to realise their dreams, but also made her forget what it is like to be desired, to be touched. 

According to counselling psychologist Deepak Kashyap, while all experiences are valid, privileged urban Indians must situate their “financial woes” in the larger socio-economic context of their country. 

“If you’re worried about not being able to afford a drink in a high-end pub with your date after a bad day at work, you’re probably not poor in the most technical sense,” he said. “You need to prioritise your finances and understand that once your basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of, money only makes things convenient  – it doesn’t guarantee happiness or mental peace.”

If one’s partner might be going through a rough financial patch, and one really does love them, Kashyap suggested clarifying the nature of one’s moneylending. 

“You can lend them some money as a gift, in which case you must never mention it again or expect it to be [paid] back. However, if it’s a loan, then it’s better to specify the same.”

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Labhanshi Agarwal, a 22-year-old visual storyteller, said that now that she’s earning, the romance she associated with cafés and fancy restaurants as a college student has withered away, especially since she’s living on her own in a city like Delhi, away from her parents, and understands the bite of inflation. 

“I’d much rather focus on creating moments together,” she said. “Often, simply going to a roadside shack for tea and cookies with my partner is satisfying enough, instead of spending my day’s income on a fancy latte and a croissant. My partner and I also focus on going for long walks and long drives.”

Abhiveer Mehta, a 23-year-old fashion designer based in Delhi, said that money might play an even bigger role than the heart when it comes to romantic relationships. Though Mehta prefers upscale places for dates, he said he’s noticing how an increasing number of potential dates are rethinking spending lavishly on dates, and even bailing on him if plans involve a fancy outing.

“For me, it’s important to gauge the standard of living of the person that I’d like to date,” he said. “This is because I can’t date mindlessly. I date with an expectation that it might lead to something long-term.”

Mehta clarified that his filter of “standard of living” when deciding dates does not necessarily mean his potential date should own a fancy house, but that there must be a sense of financial maturity in the way they manage their savings, how they navigate their work, and how knowledgeable they are about matters of financial literacy that translates into the way they lead their lives. A date who splurges their month’s savings in one night during a drunken frenzy, for instance, wouldn’t be a good fit, either. 

However, economist Bhattacharya said that it’s important to understand the gender parity that exists in the real world when we talk about inflation and romantic relationships. Inflation, she said, does not affect men and women equally in any relationship – romantic or otherwise.

“On average, men earn more in India and have much higher access to jobs,” she said. “The latest round of data for urban Delhi shows only 15.5 percent of women are in the labour force. Considering such an already lopsided dynamic where most women depend on men for money, increased prices are likely to further increase men's bargaining power in the dating market and within a relationship, thereby making our pair-bonds more unequal.”

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Tagged:

relationships, Inflation, Sex, EXPENSIVE, romance, Love

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